Our values journey: "We put them up on the wall, but we didn't do that straight away."

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It's HR in Retail month on HRZone! We're focusing on all things retail - check out our HR in retail hub to read all our great content!

Kathy Allison is Global HR Director of footwear brand FitFlop and has been instrumental in FitFlop's project to discover and embed their global values. She was previously at Boohoo.com. In this interview we discuss FitFlop's global values journey, how the journey has been, what has worked and what hasn't, and the path forward for the global brand.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: You’ve recently been through a values journey at FitFlop. Tell us about what started that journey and where you’ve got to.

Kathy Allison, Global HR Director, FitFlop: When I joined the business, there were already a set of values that were quite well known and fairly well established in the organization, but there was just a question around whether they were the right ones and whether they were being used.

Did everybody know what they were, not just understanding the words, but what it meant to them?

This wasn't just a fluffy “put some words and make them pretty on a poster”-type exercise.

In terms of the values project, our chief executive was very engaged throughout the entire process, and was very keen not to make it just an HR activity.

So there was a lot of groundwork that was done early on to work with him, and we asked ourselves the first question: do we really need to do it? Do we have the desire to do it? What difference do we think it's going to make?

The business case was all around making sure we had the right culture and environment for our people, but also that if we got the values right, that would help support the commercial success of the business.

So, it wasn't just a fluffy “put some words and make them pretty on a poster”-type exercise.

We also talked about what would happen if we did it and we get it wrong. Or if we didn’t engage with people properly. Or if they didn’t buy into it. How damaging could that be if we do it in a half-hearted way?

We knew as well that at the size that we are – just over 200 people - that we had an opportunity to get every single person involved in the values process and get their views.

What we did, in essence, was engage a number of people from across the business globally to lead the process with their people, and we used a survey and focus groups.

We also talked about what would happen if we did it and we get it wrong.

Some of the questions we asked were about what makes FitFlop different, what people thought of the old values, whether we should even change the old values and what the new values should be.

Because we’d engaged people from across the business, these questions were coming from someone who our employees already had a relationship with, so it yielded lots of useful information and data.

We also asked external people about what they felt embodied FitFlop.

We worked on streamlining this data, slimming down to some core words that were coming out consistently, which were bucketed into 10 themes.

And then we talked about those themes in partnership with leadership to distil them into three words: better, proud and appreciative.

They are very simple and easy to remember, but they mean a lot. So appreciative means appreciation for the people who work and support us, for our retailers and our suppliers.

And we were able to match those three words back to everything people had told us. And we told people at each stage exactly where we’d got to – we didn’t want a ‘big reveal’ at the end where people felt no connection to the values.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: How did you overcome the problem of cultural differences as you’re a global business?

Kathy Allison, Global HR Director, FitFlop: Words can mean different things and people can interpret things in different ways.

One of the biggest discussions we had was around one of the old values, which was fun. Some people felt quite passionate that we should still have fun in our values.

Other people thought that we shouldn't because if you have to actually say you’re fun, how fun are you? It's like having to say that you're honest: why would you have that in the mix?

Initiatives you do from an HR perspective can often land very differently in other areas of our business.

In the UK we do more organized activities around fun: some day we might do pub quizzes, sports days, that sort of thing.

When we were talking to the US team, their representative said more of them have a longer commute and they're quite often driving, so it's not all about going out after work.

For them fun was more about having the freedom to say “yes, we can go out today, let’s go and get an ice cream” and not having to worry about it, or just having fun between themselves naturally.

So it’s through these types of discussions that you find out how people see things differently. Initiatives you do from an HR perspective can often land very differently in other areas of our business.

Now in terms of making sure our values made sense globally, there are a few things here. Firstly, we were tracking our values against the 10 things that had come back from the business around what was important at FitFlop, so we knew they did resonate.

In terms of language, we had to think about that when we did the roll-out presentation.

We used one of our team members in China, for example, to translate the presentation to make sure people were able to ask questions and could understand easily.

We knew that one of our values, appreciative, would be tricky, because of the tendency for some people to think we were talking about having a job at FitFlop e.g. ‘I’m so grateful to them for giving me a job.’ That’s not what it was about.

There was also expanding what our values – better, proud and appreciative – meant and what they looked like in action.

We ended up with a whole pack that we used globally, which took everybody on a story of what we did, why we did it, then sharing what the values were and matching it back against the 10 themes.

There was also expanding what our values – better, proud and appreciative – meant and what they looked like in action.

It was important to leave ownership to the people within the business i.e. the three values underpin what makes us stand out rather than tell people exactly the types of behaviours that model them.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Now you’re through the process, how do you plan to use the value words – better, proud and appreciative – within the business?

Kathy Allison, Global HR Director, FitFlop: When we are doing our selection processes we have our behavioural questions so they might not call out those words in each questions but that's what they're testing.

We've used the behaviours that we put underneath those values to identify examples of questions that we will use on the selecting people so that we get a real feel for whether these values are part of who they are, if they’re already demonstrating them etc.

We put them up on the wall, but we didn't do that straight away.

Sharing what they are is very important, so people can also self-select, so that if we're talking about our values, people can say “actually that's not for me, that doesn't align with my own personal values” and can make a decision about whether they want to continue to consider joining FitFlop or not.

We also use the values as part of our review process. So, we measure performance against objectives (what has been done) but also how that performance has been achieved.

So, the values and behaviours that sit with that are all measured and contribute to the reward systems that we have in place.

We put them up on the wall, but we didn't do that straight away.

What we find is that with these words, the descriptions that can fit underneath them can evolve.

We deliberately had a big lag of about maybe four or five months before the visuals went up, because we didn't want it to be visuals first, and then integrating them in afterwards. It's reflected in our learning and development strategy as well.

When we're setting out what learning is at FitFlop, we use the words better, proud and appreciative in there to explain what we're trying to do.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: You're growing quickly and at this stage organisations can change a lot. How do you ensure the values remain relevant? If you grow very quickly, would you go through the discovery phase again?

Kathy Allison, Global HR Director, FitFlop: As we grow we'll always keep checking, and if we start to feel for any reason that we're getting feedback that people are not identifying with our values in the same way, or the business was to take a slightly different direction, and need to prioritize different things, then we would definitely go back and look at it again.

I think you shouldn't do it all the time, and it shouldn't change significantly, but it would be a bit naive to say you do it once, and that's it forever.

I think it's the type of thing that if you do it too often it becomes a bit meaningless. So, we're not planning to revisit it again quickly.

What we find is that with these words, the descriptions that can fit underneath them can evolve, and it can mean different things at different points in our evolution.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: In terms of your role in the values process, who are your key stakeholders that you work with? Can you talk a bit about the relationships with them?

Kathy Allison, Global HR Director, FitFlop: There’s the Chief People Officer (Joanna Ansell) and I report directly to her.

She was a massive advocate of the values process. Michael Lockett is the CEO, and since we went through our values journey we’ve been establishing a new operating board.

But we work very closely with the leadership team globally, in generally, to develop the values process. People at the right level were engaged from day one, and all the way through.

In terms of my role, I was the project manager for the whole thing.

I kept Michael [CEO] and Joanna [Chief People Officer] informed all the way through, but took the lead on all communications discussing with Michael why we should do it, making sure we had the buy-in, and then driving it through the business, making sure we have the right level of engagement and that each of those process steps happened at the right time and in the right way.

We’re not a huge business, so it’s kind of everyone has to help get everything done.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Everyone has to be a jack-of-all-trades.

Kathy Allison, Global HR Director, FitFlop: Definitely. If people come in without that mindset, quite often you find that they'll say “we need a policy for this, and what's the process for that, and who does that?”

And you say “well nobody, but go away and make it happen, that's a really good idea, let's do it.”

I think sometimes that can be an adjustment for people coming in from much larger corporate organizations.

We’re working with our CEO on a definition of talent that reflections how he thinks about talent internally.

It can sometimes feel like the safety net has disappeared because there was someone to do all of those things before, and smaller businesses don't necessarily have that same organizational skill at the moment.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What are the next steps in your values journey?

Kathy Allison, Global HR Director, FitFlop: It’s talent succession. We’re working with our CEO on a definition of talent that reflections how he thinks about talent internally, then we’re taking that out into a tool that we’ll be able to use to map talent back against values.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Your values journey has obviously gone very well. What were the risks if it hadn’t panned out?

Kathy Allison, Global HR Director, FitFlop: If you ask people and you don't listen, the risk to engagement is enormous.

So, if we had started off asking everybody, and then thought “well, actually we don’t like what they’re saying, we’ll use these words instead,” then we would never be able to land workable values, and that could be damaging to how people perceive our entire brand and our leadership team.

It's HR in Retail month on HRZone! We're focusing on all things retail - check out our HR in retail hub to read all our great content!

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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